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Midweek Review

Govt-civil society imbroglio



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Civil society activists are sharply divided over their strategy to deal with the government. The majority of them have found fault with the Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus (SLCC) for undermining the overall civil society strategy by entering into a high profile dialogue with the government.

The Sri Lanka Civil Society Forum (SLCSF) in particular is disappointed over the way the SLCC handled contentious issues. The outfit is concerned that the government would take advantage of the ongoing dialogue with the SLCC thereby cause irreparable damage to achieving a post-war national reconciliation on their terms.

The issues at hand, in the eyes of SLCSF, are curbs on civil society, enactment of the 20th Amendment, continuing use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), threats on social justice activists and media, transitional justice, enforced disappearances, arbitrary use of quarantine regulations, inordinate delay in a political settlement to the national problem, delay in proper investigations into 2019 Easter Sunday attacks and the delay related to introducing reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.

The SLCSF consists of 30 organisations, including Families of the Disappeared, Centre for Policy Alternatives, IMADR- Asia Committee, Right to Life Human Rights Centre, Women and Media Collective, Rights Now for Collective Democracy, Centre for Society and Religion, Women’s Action Network, Mothers and Daughters of Lanka, Centre for Women and Development – Jaffna, Law and Society Trust, AHAM Humanitarian Resource Center (AHRC), Trincomalee, Rural Development Foundation, Institute for Social Development, Janawabodha Kendraya, Web Journalist Association of Sri Lanka, Eastern Social Development Foundation, Human Elevation Organisation, National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, National Fisher Women’s Federation, Mannar Women’s Development Federation, Malarum Mottukal Women’s Collective, Alliance for Minorities, Rule of Law Forum, Food First Information and Action Network – Sri Lanka, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Mannar Social and Economic Development Organisation, Citizens Committee Human Rights Centre – Gampaha, Sri Vimukthi Fisher Women Organization and Centre for Human Rights and Development.

The live wires in the SLCSF are Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Dr. Gehan Gunatilleke, Dr. Nimalka Fernando, Dr. Mario Gomez, Dr. Sakunthala Kadirgamar, Rev. Rohan de Silva, Britto Fernando, K. S. Ratnavale, Ms. Shreen Saroor, Ms. Ambika Sathkunanathan, Philip Dissanayake, Ms. Kumudhini Samuel, Godfrey Yogarajah, Prabodha Ratnayake, Ameer Faaiz, Thilak Kariyawasam, Ms Saroja Sivachandran, Aruna Shantha Nonis, Ms Bhavani Fonseka, Ruki Fernando, Periyasami Muthulingam, Gowthaman Balachandran, Sudarshana Gunawardana, Freddy Gamage, Abdul Ramees, Ms Sumika Perera, Ms Marreen Srinika Nilasini, Asanka Abeyrathna, Ms Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan, Herman Kumara, Jehan Jegatheesan, Yartan Figurado, Shantha Pathirana, Ms A.D. Rajani, Ms M. Kusum Silva and Vinoth Anthony.

However, some of those who represented the SLCSF, in a statement issued recently, strongly criticised the SLCC. Inquiries revealed that statement hadn’t been issued as the SLCSF but signified a major rift among civil society groups since the last presidential election in Nov 2019. The media received that statement from Ambika Sathkunanathan, former outspoken member of the Human Rights Commission (HRC). She resigned from the HRC in early March 2020. Her resignation fueled speculation that she would campaign for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at the general election scheduled for April 2020 but later postponed to August 2020. When one Chanaka Dissanayake tweeted on January 9, 2021 that Sathkunanathan exposed HRC being biased by throwing her weight behind the TNA campaign, she tweeted: “after I resigned from HRCSL, was asked to contest by TNA & refused. Was on National List but never campaigned for TNA. Was never part of or participated in their election or any other campaign. Pls fact check. Care to comment on current Chair-HRCSL being a politician? She was referring to Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, formerly of the SLFP parliamentary group being appointed HRCSL Chairman by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In spite of severe criticism, the SLCC, spearheaded by Dr. Jehan Perera, one-time darling of the Norwegians, has sustained the project and seems to be confident in continuing with the effort. Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris recently addressed a conference, organised by the National Peace Council (NPC), the leading element in the SLCC. The Foreign Minister and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) Chairman’s participation at the event, organised on the theme of ‘Plural Sri Lanka: Paths to Reconciliation’ underscored the government appreciation of that particular civil society grouping.

It would be pertinent to mention that both Prof. Peiris and UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet referred to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government entering into a dialogue at the March 2021 Geneva sessions. The government seems somewhat comfortable in having a continuous dialogue with at least a section of the civil society as part of overall efforts to appease Western powers.

Unfortunately, the incumbent administration has conveniently forgotten the dire need to contradict an accountability resolution co-sponsored by the yahapalana government in Oct 2015. That contentious resolution based on unsubstantiated allegations resulted in strictures.

Western powers insulted the war-winning Sri Lanka Army by refusing to accept retired military officers as Ambassadors or High Commissioners, denied visas to serving and retired officers, and the US named Army Chief General Shavendra Silva as a war criminal.

The government seems unaware that the NPC has absolutely no interest in genuine reconciliation. Perhaps the government does not care to set the record straight. Beset by a range of simmering political and economic issues, the government appeared to have placed the accountability issue on the back burner. If the NPC is genuine in its efforts, it would have certainly made a bid to reconcile the communities by helping the government to establish the truth.

The writer was not surprised when NPC acknowledged that war-related matters hadn’t been discussed at the nearly two-year-long reconciliation project that brought together students from Eastern, Jaffna, Ruhuna and Sabaragamuwa Universities.

Pointing out those post-war reconciliation efforts had been badly hampered by allegations that the Sri Lankan military killed over 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front, The Island sought clarification as regards measures taken by the NPC to improve relations among the communities, and the following question was raised:

The Island: During your two-year long project did participants discuss specific war crimes allegations and disclosure made in the House of Lords in Oct 2017 that contradicted unsubstantiated accusations pertaining to 40,000 civilian deaths.

Executive Director NPC Dr. Jehan Perera: “No, we did not discuss these war-related matters. The project was titled “Creative Youth Engagement for Pluralism” and it focused on the nature of Sri Lanka as a plural society and the value framework that should guide it.

It would be a grave mistake on the government’s part to believe the SLCC would assist Sri Lanka counter lies. Dr. Perera was quite close to the yahapalana administration, the late Mangala Samaraweera accommodated him on the Sri Lanka delegation to Geneva sessions in March 2018. There hadn’t been a previous instance of civil society representing the government in Geneva.

Regrettably, the incumbent government for some unexplained reason, continues, to refrain from making a proper response on behalf of the war-winning armed forces in Geneva. Information (Gash papers) provided by Lord Naseby that may help Sri Lanka to challenge lies remain unused. The British Conservative Lord, a true friend of Sri Lanka, made them available to us in late 2017.

Whatever the differences among the civil society members, they would never under any circumstances help Sri Lanka to counter war crimes accusations. Those who receive foreign funding and sponsorships cannot help the Sri Lankan military clear its name. They have to dance to the tune of their Western pay masters. The government will realise its folly at the next Geneva session in March 2022.

Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka alleged in Parliament recently that modern-day Mahawamsa chroniclers had done a grave injustice to those who led the fight, with their poor recording of Eelam War IV. Sri Lanka’s failure to counter Western strategy should be examined taking into consideration the war winning Army Chief’s accusation.

SLCC under fire

A statement issued by Ambika Sathkunanathan, on behalf of a group of individuals, dealt with a statement, dated Nov 29, put out by the SLCC following consultations with the government. The statement condemned the government-SLCC dialogue on the PTA. Dismissing proposals meant to reform the PTA, the group called for repeal of the PTA and in the interim an immediate moratorium on the use of the law.

The group reiterated that any law that purports to deal with terrorism must adhere to international human rights standards. The following are the signatories to the statement issued by Sathkunanathan: S. Annalaxumy, Bisliya Bhutto, S.C.C. Elankovan, A.M. Faaiz, Brito Fernando, Nimalka Fernando, Ruki Fernando, Aneesa Firthous, Amarasingham Gajenthiran, T.Gangeswary, K. Ginogini, Ranitha Gnanarajah, B. Gowthaman, S. Hayakirivan, V. Inthrani, Noorul Ismiya, Dr. Sakuntala Kadirgamar, S. Kamalakanthan, Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan, Kandumani Lavakusarasa, Jensila Majeed, Buhary Mohamed, Juwairiya Mohideen, Jaabir Raazi Muhammadh, P. Muthulingam, Thangaraja Prashanthiran, Dorin Rajani, Maithreyi Rajasingham, A.R.A. Ramees, V. Ranjana, K.S. Ratnavale, Yamini Ravindran, Kumudini Samuel, Thurainayagam Sanjeevan, Shreen Saroor, Ambika Satkunanathan, Rev. Fr. S.D.P. Selvan, S. Selvaranie, Vanie Simon, P.N. Singham, Usha Sivakumar, N. Sumanthi, Vani Sutha, Ermiza Tegal, S. Thileepan, P. Vasanthagowrey, Rev. Fr. Yogeswaran, Adayalam Centre for Policy Research Alliance for Minorities, Centre for Human Rights and Development Centre for Justice and Change, Eastern Social Development Foundation, Families of the Disappeared, Forum for Plural Democracy, Law and Society Trust, Mannar Women’s Development Federation, Rural Development Foundation, Tamil Civil Society Forum, Viluthu, and Women’s Action Network.

Some sections of the civil society feel the SLCC’s dialogue with the government can be exploited by the latter. They question the incumbent government’s sincerity as tangible measures haven’t been taken to address the grievances of the minorities. The SLCC comprises Ven. Kalupahana Piyaratana Thera – Convenor, Inter Religious Alliance for National Unity, Chairman, Human Development Edification Centre, Bishop Asiri Perera – Retired President Bishop of Methodist Church, Rev. Fr. C.G. Jeyakumar – Parish Priest Ilavalai and Lecturer at the Jaffna Major Seminary, Human Rights Activist, Dr. Joe William – Founder member and Chairman of National Peace Council, Director, Centre for Communication Training and Convenor, Alliance for Justice, Prof. T. Jayasingam – Director NPC, former Vice Chancellor of Eastern University and former member, Public Service Commission of the Eastern Provincial Council, Prof. Kalinga Tudor Silva – Professor Emeritus Dept of Sociology, University of Peradeniya, Dr. Dayani Panagoda – Social Activist, former director of Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process and Lecturer, former member of the Official Languages Commission, Ms. Visaka Dharmadasa – Peace Activist, Chair of Association of War Affected Women, Dr. Jehan Perera – Founder member and Executive Director of NPC, Dr. P. Saravanamuttu – Founder Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Hilmy Ahamed – Vice President Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, Sanjeewa Wimalagunarathna – Former director of Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, Rohana Hettiarachchi – Executive Director PAFFREL, Javid Yusuf – Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, former member of Human Rights Commission, former member, Constitutional Council, former principal, Zahira College and Founder member and Governing Council member, NPC, Varnakulasingham Kamaladas- President STA solidarity foundation, Convenor, Assembly of Hindus for Peace and Harmony, and Ms. Sarah Arumugam – Human Rights Lawyer (This list was made available by Dr. Perera in response to the writer’s request)

Focus on post-Easter Sunday attacks

A second statement issued by Ambika Sathkunanathan on behalf of smaller group of activists namely Radhika Coomaraswamy, Nimalka Fernando, Sakuntala Kadirgamar, Chulani Kodikara, Rehab Mamoor, Yamini Ravindran, Thyagi Ruwanpathirana, Kumudini Samuel, Shreen Saroor, Ambika Satkunanathan and Muqaddasa Wahid following a two-day visit to Batticaloa dealt with the difficulties experienced by those affected by the Easter Sunday carnage. The National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) targeted a church in Batticaloa.

The statement focused on the continued challenges faced by the Christian community in exercising their right to practice their faith freely and without fear. The group blamed the situation on both extra-legal state interference, as well as social discrimination by the Hindu community and the Catholic Church. The group stated: “Christian pastors highlighted the phenomenon of Hindu groups that propagate Hindutva-like ideologies and have affiliations to the Shiv Sena in India, targeting the Christian community.

Other forms of discrimination, marginalisation and harassment of the Christian community include denial of permission to establish places of worship, preventing them from using the public cemetery, denying their children admission to national schools, interruption of prayer meetings, including through the use of violence, and perpetration of violence against pastors. We were informed that complaints to the police often have no impact as the police do not take any action. The security agencies reportedly visit churches and request information about congregants, supposedly to ensure that those who are not part of the congregation are not allowed to enter the churches. The pastors however stated this only served to intimidate them and was contrary to the open and inclusive policy they practiced of welcoming persons of all faiths.”

The group appeared to have ignored controversial statement made by TNA heavyweight M.A. Sumanthiran, PC within days after the Easter Sunday carnage. Lawmaker Sumanthiran alleged that the Easter Sunday carnage was a result of Sri Lanka’s failure to ensure certain basic values. Did he justify the Easter Sunday attacks?

The Jaffna District MP warned of dire consequences unless the government addressed the grievances of the minorities. MP Sumanthiran said that no conversation took place without reference to Easter Sunday attacks. The lawmaker said that the public were asking what was going to happen because the country was stunned by what happened on that day. Sumanthiran: “All of us were so complacent we lived in a fool’s paradise imagining that the country was at peace in the absence of violence.”

As there had been no fighting for 10 years people assumed the country had attained peace. All that was shattered that morning on Easter Sunday, the MP said.

Such an attack would have happened some day because the country had not laid the foundation for peaceful co-existence in this country the TNA heavyweight said. “What we saw was a false edifice. And we were quite happy to carry on with that. Three decades of violent conflict that emanated from the North and East kept us on our toes and those days we actually saw the need to address those issues in a very deep and meaningful way”.

Sumanthiran alleged that once the war was brought to a conclusion in May 2009, those responsible assumed there was no requirement to address those issues. They continued to pay lip service, the lawmaker alleged, adding: “Whenever issues were raised, they say they must resolve those issues. But deep down, they didn’t feel those issues had to be addressed”.

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry that probed the Easter Sunday carnage owed an elucidation as to why an explanation was not sought from Sumanthiran. In fact, the writer brought to the PCoI’s notice the TNA MP’s statement when the police unit attached to the outfit recorded his statement as regards the justification of terrorist attacks.

Many years before Sumanthiran entered Parliament as a TNA National List MP in 2010, his party recognised the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. Did the LTTE achieve TNA’s cooperation at gun point? The LTTE and the TNA worked as a team. It was a deadly combination.

Following the 2004 general election, the European Union Election Observation Mission faulted the TNA for receiving the LTTE’s backing to secure the lion’s share of parliamentary seats in the Northern and Eastern provinces with the latter stuffing the ballot boxes.

Having faithfully served the LTTE throughout the war, the TNA backed General Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the 2010 presidential election. The civil society didn’t find fault with the TNA for backing the war-winning Army Commander nor blamed the group for depriving the Northern Province Tamils of their right to vote at the 2005 presidential election. The LTTE and the TNA worked on this project together. No less a person than R. Sampanthan, the current TNA leader confirmed the decision with this writer a few days before the election. Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu was the only civil society activist to take a courageous stand against the LTTE-TNA polls boycott decision.

The government should realise that it should set the record straight in Geneva. The current Geneva project cannot be reversed by engaging the civil society and the Tamil Diaspora. The recent announcement made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as regards an SLN intelligence officer and former Staff Sergeant of the Army underscored the fact that the sinister Western agenda was continuing. The recent declaration of the above-mentioned officers as gross violators of human rights should be examined against the backdrop of Army Commander General Shavendra Silva still being blacklisted.

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Midweek Review

Post-war foreign relations: A diplomatic quagmire for Lanka



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flanked by PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese FM Wang Yi launch Sri Lanka China Friendship Sailing Cup at the Port City last Sunday.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong seems quite confident of Sri Lanka’s capacity to overcome the current economic turmoil the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is experiencing.

 The top Chinese envoy, at an informal meeting with a selected group of print media journalists on Sunday (09), soon after the departure of Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, asserted that the crisis was temporary.  Ambassador Qi Zhenhong declared that as Sri Lanka had overcome far bigger challenges the country wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the current challenge in debt servicing. The meet took place at the King Emperor Suite of the Galle Face Hotel

 Wang departed following high level political talks with the Sri Lankan leadership. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese FM Wang inaugurated the Sri Lanka-China Sailing Cup 2022 at the Port City to celebrate the 65th anniversary of China and Sri Lanka diplomatic relations and the 70th anniversary of the Rubber-Rice pact. Interestingly, former Premier and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP, was among the invitees. Wickremesinghe, whose government delayed the Port City project by about one and half years, sat next to Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, who returned from an official visit to Seoul the previous day.

 Is Ambassador Qi Zhenhong right in his assessment? Had there been far bigger crises in the recent past that threatened to overwhelm Sri Lanka? Perhaps Ambassador Qi Zhenhong is right in his appraisal. Maybe, he is not. Having joined the Chinese Foreign Service in 1988, Ambassador Qi Zhenhong took over the Chinese diplomatic mission in Colombo about a year ago at the height of Covid-19 eruption.

 Amidst a simmering row with the Sri Lankan government over the rejection of an allegedly contaminated Chinese carbonic fertiliser consignment, Ambassador Qi Zhenhong undertook a three-day visit (Dec 15-17, 2021) to the Jaffna peninsula.

Colombo-based The Hindu correspondent, Meera Srinivasan, in a story dated Dec 26, 2021, headlined ‘Chinese Ambassador’s visit to Jaffna sparks concern, commentary in Sri Lanka’, described the visit as an intensification of geopolitical contest between India and China. Qi Zhenhong underscored China’s right to engage people in any part of Sri Lanka. Responding to media at the Emperor’s Suite, Qi Zhenhong pointed out: “Jaffna is in the northern part of Sri Lanka, not south of any other country.”

 Ambassador Qi visited the Jaffna public library and the Adam’s Bridge, a row of limestone shoals across the narrow Palk Strait between Mannar and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.

The Ambassador visited a seafood factory in Mannar district, built with Chinese investment, and a sea cucumber farm in Jaffna.

The Chinese entry into Sri Lanka and the gradual expansion of its role here should be examined against the backdrop of Indian-funded terrorism project that destabilised the entire country. The Sri Lanka Army couldn’t have withstood the terrorist firepower if not for military assistance provided by China, Pakistan, Russia and Israel during the early stages of the conflict. Having paid a heavy price for destabilising its smaller neighbour, India allowed the annihilation of separatist Tamil conventional military capability in 2009. The eradication of terrorism has paved the way for geopolitical contest between the two Asian nuclear powers here. Both China and India seemed confident in pursuing their agendas as the cash-strapped SLPP government struggled on multiple fronts. The deterioration of Sri Lanka’s economy as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic delivering a devastating blow to its once vibrant tourism industry and expatriate worker remittances, (both raked in huge amounts of foreign exchange), as well as waste, corruption and mismanagement at every level appeared to have facilitated anti-Sri Lanka foreign projects much to the dismay of the vast majority of people. Sri Lanka seems to be at the mercy of foreign powers.

Superpower politics

 Chinese and Indian investments as well as relations with political parties here cannot be discussed leaving out the ongoing battle between China and the US-led grouping. India is part of the latter. South Korea is also in that group though it has so far refrained from joining the four-nation ‘Quad’ comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia. Post-war Sri Lanka is in a dicey situation. In spite of overcoming terrorism 12 years ago, Sri Lanka is under tremendous pressure from both parties as each seeks investment opportunities advantageous to them.

 Recently, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda expressed concerns over China and India seeking to invest in the Point Pedro fisheries harbour. Devananda, the leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), one of the smaller terrorist groups, that took to the democratic path long before the LTTE terror mechanism was annihilated and primarily active in the Northern region vowed not to allow China to exploit the Northern population. Obviously Devananda is playing politics. The Fisheries Minister cannot take a view contrary to that of the Rajapaksas.

Pathfinder, an organisation founded by Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Milinda Moragoda, in its latest report titled ‘Sri Lanka has no room to maneuver’ carried in the January 10 edition of The Island warns of a catastrophe unless the government adopts remedial measures, immediately. While appreciating the arrangement Sri Lanka has reached with India to meet immediate challenges, Pathfinder recommended (i) restructuring of external debt (ii) an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (iii) mobilisation of ‘bridging finance’ to meet the external financing gap up to June 2022.

Recent US and Indian investments in the energy sector should be viewed against the backdrop of much economically weakened Sri Lanka. The controversial energy deals with US-based New Fortress Energy, and Indian Oil Corporation Limited finalised on Sept 17, 2021 and January 5, 2022, respectively, generated much public interest. The latter was finalised just days before the Chinese Foreign Minister’s visit. Both agreements have been challenged in the Supreme Court. The SC is in the process of hearing several petitions against the US energy deal whereas Ven. Wakmulle Uditha Thera of Nayigala Raja Mahaviharaya, Agrahara, Weeraketiya, filed a fundamental rights petition against the agreement on Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. The Ven. Thera is believed to be acting on behalf of the JVP, the only party to move court against both the US and Indian investments.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, who along with Cabinet colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa moved SC against US energy deal that came through the backdoor, in a booklet titled ‘Regaining Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm’ declared that he gave the ‘strategic leadership’ to the project. In spite of accusations of a sellout and betrayal by many quarters, including the Federation of National Organisations, led by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, which demanded a thorough investigation. Attorney-at-law Gammanpila defended the latest agreement. The booklet released by the Energy Ministry contained a letter dated July 29, 1987 signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that dealt with the Trincomalee oil tank farm, President JRJ’s response, an agreement finalised on Feb 7, 2003, during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on economic projects signed in 2017 also during Wickremesinghe’s premiership. What really surprised the public was that though the Energy Ministry compared the 2017 MoU with the recently finalised agreement, the ministry quite conveniently left the January 5 agreement out of the booklet. The ministry may claim that the agreement couldn’t be included as at the time of the releasing of the booklet, it hadn’t been signed. Perhaps, the printing of the booklet should have been delayed till the finalisation of the agreement.

Declaring the project received political guidance from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Energy Ministry revealed the identities of the two negotiating teams. Accordingly, the Sri Lankan delegation comprised Lalith Vidanagamage, Advisor, Energy Ministry, Buddhika Madihahewa, Managing Director, CPC, Mrs. Hasitha Paragahagoda, Legal Officer, Energy Ministry and Nalin Beligaswatta, Research Officer, Energy Ministry.

The Energy Ministry also named the Indian negotiating team. Deputy High Commissioner Vinod K. Jacob has led the Indian delegation that included Dr. Rakesh Pandey, Head of Commerce, Indian HC, Ms Irina Thakur, First Secretary, Commerce and Cultural Affairs and Manoj Gupta, Managing Director, LIOC.

The Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm comprised two sections (i) Lower Tank Farm and (ii) Upper Tank Farm spread over 827 acres of land.

One cannot forget the circumstances India forced the Indo-Lanka Accord on the latter. That agreement finalised at the height of the US-Soviet cold war encompassed the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. Today, US-India relations have reached zenith whereas at the time of the Indo-Lanka Accord India was seen as being much closer to the Soviet Union and constantly feared the US using Sri Lanka as a platform to destabilise the country. The letters exchanged between Rajiv Gandhi and JRJ agreed on the restoration and operation of the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm as a joint venture. With the latest agreement, India has consolidated its position in the strategic port city of Trincomalee close on the heels of politically influential Adani Group’s investment at the Colombo port. Gujarat-headquartered company signed a Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) agreement with Sri Lanka’s largest listed company John Keells Holdings and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to jointly develop the Colombo West International Container Terminal (CWICT) at the Colombo Port, situated amidst one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. China has secured a terminal of its own during the previous Rajapaksa administration as the war was raging with hardly any other investor showing interest and during the Yahapalana administration won a 99-year lease on the Hambantota port. Controversy surrounds the Hambantota port deal, too. Arjuna Ranatunga, who had served as the Ports and Shipping Minister at that time had to give up the portfolio as he didn’t agree with the terms. The then President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe brought in SLFPer Mahinda Samarasinghe as the Ports and Shipping Minister to put the finishing touches to it. Having finalised the agreement in 2017, Samarasinghe switched his allegiance to the SLFP in the run-up to the last parliamentary election in August 2020. The one-time UNPer recently gave up his Kalutara District parliamentary seat to receive appointment as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington.

Former PM Wickremesinghe, FM Prof. Peiris, Minister Namal Rajapaksa and Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong at the launch of Sri Lanka China Friendship Sailing Cup at the Port City last Sunday (pics courtesy PM Media)

Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note

 In spite of China and Sri Lanka enjoying excellent relations and the latter regularly referring to China as an all-weather friend, there had been a number of contentious issues. The Island had an opportunity to raise some of them with Ambassador Qi Zhenhong during last Sunday’s meeting. Reference was made to accusations made by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake as regards China taking advantage of Sri Lanka, dispute over contaminated carbonic fertiliser consignment that had to be settled by paying USD 6.7 mn to the Chinese firm concerned and SLPP lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s fiery letter to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. There hadn’t been a previous instance of a lawmaker writing to the Chinese leader through its Ambassador in Colombo. Ambassador Qi Zhenhong dismissed Rajapakse’s concerns over China changing its strategy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the wake of the high profile ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) project meant to improving connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. One-time Justice Minister and former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) accused China of following an agenda intended to destroy Sri Lanka’s relations with the US, the UK, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and in time to come Russia.

Lawmaker Rajapakse’s stand cannot be examined without taking his call during the previous administration to rescind the Sri Lanka-China agreement on the Hambantota port through the intervention of the Parliament. That call was made in his capacity as a UNP Member of Parliament, whereas he wrote the January 3 dated letter as an SLPP lawmaker.

MP Rajapakse accused China of ruining Sri Lanka’s economy to facilitate their project. The former Justice Minister seemed to have no issue with Quad members, the UK and Korea. Quad members never stood by Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) whereas Western powers brazenly pursued a policy detriment to Sri Lanka. They either voted against Sri Lanka or skipped the vote as in the case of Japan regardless of the Comprehensive Partnership the two countries entered into in Oct 2015. Obviously, Japan lacked the political will to go against the US wishes at the Geneva HRC, whereas Seoul voted against Colombo. On the basis of the Geneva process, the Sri Lankan military is being targeted by the US and some of her allies as part of the overall campaign directed at Sri Lanka.

Regardless of Sri Lanka’s close relations with China, the accusations made by MP Rajapakse cannot be dismissed lightly. The MP issued a warning over possible Chinese investments under the ‘Selendiva’ project, having questioned the investments on the Colombo Port, South Terminal, Coal-fired power plant complex at Norochcholai, International Airport at Mattala, Lotus Tower (Nelum Kuluna) in Colombo, Lotus Theatre (Nelum Pokuna) in Colombo, International Cricket Stadium at Suriyawewa and International Conference Hall in Hambantota. Alleging China created a debt trap, lawmaker Rajapakse said that he lost his portfolio during the Yahapalana administration as he opposed the Hambantota port deal. The copies of MP Rajapakse’s explosive letter have been sent to the President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Most Venerable High Prelates, the Archbishop Colombo, Foreign Minister, Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka and Colombo-based High Commissioners and the Ambassadors of the other countries.

Can the SLPP government afford to ignore Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s actions, particularly against the backdrop of stripping Susil Premjayantha of his portfolio over criticism of the government? Similarly, can Ministers Vasudeva, Wimal and Udaya get away after having challenged their Cabinet colleagues over the US energy deal? The government needs to address these issues as the ruling coalition as well as other political parties represented in Parliament struggle to come to terms with a rapidly changing situation. Avoiding Chinese as well as Western moves and that of India seem a herculean task for Sri Lanka, trying to walk the diplomatic tightrope.

During the Yahapalana administration, the US pushed for three agreements, namely ACSA (Access and Cross Servicing Agreement), SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact. On the approval of President Sirisena, the government signed ACSA in August 2017 though the remaining agreements couldn’t be finalised. No one can forget how Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe authorised one-sided CFA (Ceasefire Agreement) or the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo allowed the Singapore Sri Lanka Free Trade Pact. If those in power and the Opposition are genuinely interested in protecting national assets, they’ll agree on a political mechanism to reach consensus on agreements with external powers/foreign parties.

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Midweek Review

What is so luring about John Steinbeck’s The Pearl: A translator’s view



Book: Dimuthuwa (A translation of The Pearl)
Translator: K. A. I Kalyanaratne
Publisher: Sarasavi

By K. A. I Kalyanaratne

Having studied Sinhala and English since my early schooling, I thought of rendering into Sinhala an English masterpiece. I knew that such an exercise would help not only test my comprehension in that contextual setting but also measure my capacity to reproduce the ideas in idiomatic Sinhala so that the reader would feel that the rendering was not foreign to him or her.

I did not want to estrange the local reader.

Translator’s responsibilities

I began my search for a read-worthy book for that purpose. I came across a book, not so voluminous, I had attempted several times to render into Sinhala, without much success. I had given up all my previous attempts halfway upon realisation that the time was not opportune for me to undertake such a responsible task, for any writer has a responsibility by the society to uplift it to the best of one’s ability, and retain the ingenuity of the original writer. I was also concerned about the sanctity of the language, the most sacred tool of its users. It means that any writer should be mindful of the correct idiomatic expressions of that language.


Finally, I selected ‘THE PEARL’ by the American novelist and Nobel prize-winner John Steinbeck. Having read it a couple of times, I was familiar with its content. Considering the number of characters and the span of time involving the narration, many a writer treats The Pearl as a ‘novella’ or a ‘novelette’. As the story is full of dramatic episodes, it is also referred to as a ‘chilling-novella’. As Steibeck has himself expressed in his epigraph to the Pearl, he has re-told a Mexican folktale which relates a series of tragic events that unraveled with a scorpion biting Kino’s son Coyotito.

In his inimitable style Steinbeck says

“In the town they tell the story of the great pearl – how it was found, and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man’s mind. And, as with all retold tales that are in people’s hearts, there are only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.

If the story is a parable, perhaps everyone reads his or her own life into it. In any case, they say in the town that…”


” මෙ වෙසෙයි දිමුතුව ලද සැටිත්, ඒ යළි නැති වුණු සැටිත් පිළිබඳ පවත ඒ නියැරියෝ පවසති. එ මෙන් ම, ධීවර කීනෝත්, ඔහු ගේ බිරිය ජුවානාත්, ඔවුන් ගේ පුත් කොයෝතිතෝත් පිළිබඳ ව ඔවුහු පවසති. තව ද, මෙ පවත නෙ වර පවසනු ලැබ ඇති හෙයින්, ඒ සෑම අයකු ගේ ම සිත්හි මුල් බැස ගෙන ඇත. මිනිස් සිත්හි එල්බ ගත්, එ මෙන් ම, යළි යළිත් පැවැසුණු පවත්හි රඳා පවතිනුයේ යහඅයහ දේ පමණි. ක`ථ-සුදු දේ පමණි. සිරි-දුසිරි දේ පමණි. මෙ අතරැ වූ කිසිවක් කවර තැනෙක හෝ තිබෙනු නො හැකි යි.

මෙ පවත උපමා කතාවක් සේ සැලැකෙන්නේ නම්, සෑම අයකු ම ඔහුට සීමා වූ අරුතක් ඉන් උකහා ගනු ඇත. තමන් ගේ ම දිවි පෙවෙත ඊට කාවද්දනු ඇත. මෙ කවර අයුරු වුව ද එ නුවර වැසියෝ මෙ සේ පවසත්”

Dramatic End of The Pearl

The Kino’s pearl of the world, incomparable in its beauty, radiance and size, around which Steinbeck spins the whole story with a few characters who in their peculiar contexts behave in self-centred ambitions and aspirations, ultimately meets its own playground, the big blue sea, in whose womb it was born. At last, when Kino realises that the pearl is evil, he throws it back to the sea. The humour, sarcasm and pathos, which Steinbeck aims to generate, is the last of such incidents he narrates when he writes:

“And Kino drew back his arm and flung the pearl with all his might. Kino and Juana watched it go, winking and glimmering under the setting sun. They saw the little splash in the distance, and they stood side by side watching the place for a long time.

“And the pearl settled into the lovely green water and dropped towards the bottom.

The waving branches of the algae called to it and beckoned to it. The lights on its surface were green and lovely. It settled down to the sand bottom among the fern-like plants. Above, the surface of water was a green mirror. And the pearl lay on the floor of the sea. A crab scampering over the bottom raised a little cloud of sand, and when it settled the pearl was gone.

And the music of the pearl drifted to a whisper and disappeared.”

යළි තමා වෙත ඇදගත් අතින්, කිනෝ මු`ථ වැර යොදා, දිමුතුව මුහුදට විසි කෙළේ ය. අවරට යන හිරු ගේ හෙළියෙන් දිලෙමින් ද බැබැළෙමින් ද, එය ඈතට විසි වී යන අයුරු කිනෝ ද, ජුවානා ද හොඳින් බලා සිටියහ. එ ඈතින් දියට වැටී හට ගත් දිය කැළැඹුම දෙස ද බලා සිටි ඔවුහු, දිගු වේලාවක් එහි රැඳී සිටියහ.

දිමුතුව ද, ප‍්‍රසන්න නිල් පැහැති මුහුදුු දියෙහි තැන්පත් ව, මුහුදු පතුළට කිඳා බැස්සේ ය. එ විට මුහුදු පතුළෙහි වූ මුහුදු පැළෑටිවල
සසල වූ අතු පත් අත් වනමින් දිමුතුව කඳවා ගෙන ගියා සේ යි. මතු පිටට පතිත වූ ආලෝකයෙන් ඒ කොළ පැහැ ගැන් වී, ප‍්‍රසන්න වී තිබිණි. මීවන වන් පැළෑටි අතරින් ගොස්, පතුළේ වූ වැලි මත එය තැන්පත් විය. එ මත්තෙහි වූ මතුපිට දිය කඳ කොළ පැහැති කැටපතක් බඳු විය. එ දිමුතුව දැන් මුහුදු පතුළෙහි රැුඳී ඇත. එ පතුළෙහි ම, දුව පැන යමින් සිටි කකු`ථවකු නිසා කුඩා වැලි වළාවෙකින් නැ`ගුණු වැලි යළි තැන්පත් වත් ම, එ දිමුතුව දැක්මෙන් ඔබ්බට ගොස් තිබිණි.

එ අනුයමින් ම, දිමුතුවේ සංගීතය අවසනැ හුදු මිමිනීමක් පමණක් බවට පත් ව අතුරුදන් විය

Here, one remembers a line from T. S. Elliot’s Little Gidding: “Dust in the air suspended, Marks the place where a story ended”.

“Language is the Dress of Thought.” — Samuel Johnson

The language of The Pearl is one of the enticing aspects which lured me to undertake this exercise to render it into Sinhala. I questioned myself on several occasions whether my Sinhala diction was rich enough to express, with the same efficacy, the nuances of human feelings and sentiments that Steinbeck conveys in The Pearl.

In his retelling of a Mexican folktale, Steinbeck relates the tale of Kino, fisherman, who finds the pearl of the world during one of his dives. Showing how money is the root of all evil, Steinbeck delivers a poignant tale. Fish and pearls are usually the common source of the livelihood of fisherfolk. However, the story tells how each member of the village desires part of Kino’s newfound wealth. Hence, rather than being pleased with and sharing the happiness of this prized discovery, each villager offers his/her unique suggestion as to how Kino should spend his winnings. Steinbeck thus not only exposes human nature but also through a few characters like the doctor who later came in to treat Coyotito, Kino’s son, the priest, and the pearl brokers who attempt to swindle Kino, tells how greed erodes the cherished values, and how people who come upon sudden wealth are affected. This story also teaches us how disastrous it is to take on its face-value and acts mindlessly. The Pearl is, thus, a tale of greed, exposing how people would act and react, if pitted against the circumstances as revealed in the story. In short, The Pearl is a true representation of the secrets of man’s nature, irrespective of time or clime, and the ‘darkest depths of evil”.

An Attempt to Add Depth to the Translation of ‘The Pearl’

I strove to make ‘Dimuthuwa’ go beyond a mere translation of Steinbeck’s novelette and presume that the reader should know the background of the story as well if he or she is to enjoy the translation to the fullest. Hence, the following additional pages have been added to the translation:

i. Background – which provides the geographical setting and the novelist’s objective of turning out a folktale to a novel.

ii. The historical setting revealing the discrimination and injustice that prevailed in society, which became the crux of the story.

iii. Specialty in John Steinbeck’s style of writing and his use of the figurative language especially in describing incidents and the surroundings.

iv. The Pearl Quotes – The products of famous writers contain sayings that will live have their value beyond times and climes. They become eternal truths, and therefore, they become universal truth that are of eternal value. Some describe these sayings as ‘Distilled Wisdom’. One such quote by Steinbeck is appended below:

“For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.”

All these quotes have been rendered into Sinhala in this special section.

John Steinbeck’ background

The Pearl is a novella, a seemingly simple book, woven around a story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale. John Steinbeck was an American writer. He was the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, published in 1939 and the novella ‘Of Mice and Men’, published in 1937. He wrote 25 books, including sixteen novels,6 non-fiction books and several collections of short stories. In 1962, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature. It so happened that after I completed translating ‘The Pearl’, I was presented a voluminous publication by a friend of mine, which contained five of his novels written before The Pearl, running to over 950 pages. Published in the UK by Octopus Books Limited, its introduction ends with a quote of H. G. Wells: “Steinbeck’s robustness was always mirrored by delicacy of feelings; his pride was always matched by modesty, humility even. He saw himself as a craftsman.” But his readers concur H. G. Wells on his assessment of Steinbeck – ‘THAT TREMENDOUS GENIUS’.

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Midweek Review

The Mod-Con Tea Party



By Lynn Ockersz

They sure are ‘talking’,

But tongue-tied all the same,

And though at the same table,

Flushed with the thrill of partying,

There’s no mind-to-mind bonhomie,

And the only sounds to be heard,

Are the endless thumping of cell phones,

And the ritualistic rendering of courtesies;

A pantomime of voiceless souls it seems,

But let not this be seen as an ICT Age freak,

For, the land groans under a rash of pains,

With depression emerging a chief dread,

And the need for quality talk is dire;

But the crisis is not beyond repair,

For, a defrosting of hearts and tongues,

And the sensible use of mod cons,

Could some of this longsuffering help end.

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